Twin Lakes State Beach

A popular Santa Cruz beach just steps from restaurants and nightlife.

By Molly Lautamo

Named for Schwan Lake and the ghost of Woods Lagoon, beloved Twin Lakes State Beach bears a riddle in its name. If you pry your eyes from the ocean and look across the street, Schwan Lake is hard to miss. But where is this alleged Woods Lagoon?

Before construction of the Santa Cruz Harbor in 1962, a natural tidal marsh, originally owned by a Mr. John Woods back in the 1800s, extended from the beach to the railroad trestle. Back in the day, you could walk a continuous stretch of sandy coastline from Seabright State Beach to Twin Lakes and explore Woods Lagoon, as well as another freshwater marsh in what is now the Upper Harbor.

Fast forward about half a century: Twin Lakes has become a well-loved beach by locals and tourists, and Woods Lagoon now harbors hundreds of fishing and pleasure boats. The slightly warmer water (compared to Seabright) and sandy seafloor make for some great bodysurfing here, and the fresh water that flows onto the beach from Schwan Lake is a sandcastle architect’s dream. Towards the harbor end of the beach, athletic types can challenge each other to a game of beach volleyball, while the not-so-sporty among us can watch from one of several ocean view restaurants. If you’re on vacation (or not), go ahead and eat your way through the day here: start the morning with coffee and a pastry at The Kind Grind, fuel up on Mexican fare at Cafe El Palomar for lunch, and after a long day in the sun, enjoy dinner and drinks at The Crow’s Nest on the upper deck overlooking the harbor channel.

Thursday evenings in the summer, you’ll find college students, 60-somethings and everything in between dancing on the sand to live music. Hosted by the Crow’s Nest, the party sees bands pumping up the crowd from 5:30 to sunset on an outdoor stage while partygoers eat BBQ, enjoy an outside bar and shake their tailfeathers. There’s quite a variety of colorful events taking place at or near Twin Lakes throughout the year.

This is not the quietest beach because of the proximity to the road and restaurants, but it’s very accessible (no steep steps or eroding paths to navigate) and the conveniences of civilization (bathrooms, showers, food and alcoholic beverages) are all only a few steps away.

From April to Labor Day, parking is permit only from 11am to 5pm on weekends and holidays. You can buy permits from a trailer parked by Schwan Lake at Ninth Avenue and East Cliff Drive (almost right across from the bathrooms). Day permits are $7.

Dogs are welcome on leash and several fire rings are available for bonfires until 10pm when the beach closes.

A GREAT PLACE TO Sunbathe, watch the sunset, have a bonfire, walk Fido on a leash, while away the time until Happy Hour at the nearby Crow’s Nest.

NOT SO GOOD FOR Privacy. This is one of the most popular beaches in town.

CREATURE COMFORTS Bathrooms and showers are on the beach; food and drink are but a shuffle in the sand away.

WHAT’S A PAIN? Parking, here. Some parking is available on the roadside just outside the harbor, and a makeshift lot stands at the far (east) end of the beach. Other than that it’s trying your luck in the neighborhood—with a permit($8), of course—or a $45 ticket. On weekends and holidays you can buy day parking permits from the parking trailer at 9th and East Cliff from 10am to 5pm.

From Highway 1, take the Soquel Drive exit. Turn left onto Soquel Drive, then turn left again onto 7th Avenue. Follow 7th Avenue until you hit the beach. Take a slight left onto East Cliff Drive and look for the permit trailer parked on the left by Schwan Lake. Map to Twin Lakes State Beach

Schwan Lake Park
Seabright State Beach
26th Avenue